Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Joanna Campbell Slan

As promised yesterday, fellow mystery author Joanna Campbell Slan is visiting my blog today. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post.

The photo above is the cover for her August 7th release, Death of a Schoolgirl, which begins her new series, the Jane Eyre Chronicles. The year is 1820, and Jane Eyre is married to her beloved Edward Rochester, but their domestic tranquility is threatened when a note arrives from Adele, Jane’s former pupil. She is miserable at the girls’ school in London, and worse yet, someone wants to kill her! Rushing to Adele’s aid, Jane is mistaken for an errant German teacher. Jane maintains the false identity long enough to track down a killer who preys on schoolgirls.

As a fan of Jane Eyre, this sounds like a great read to me!

Below are Joanna's answers to my interview questions. Please leave a comment for her, and if you have a question of your own for her, ask it!

1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?

 I grew up in a chaotic household because both of my parents were alcoholics. From the moment I learned to read, I thought books were my best friends. Certainly, they offered an easy escape. From there it was a short hop to wanting to write my own stories. I think I was about ten when I stapled together sheets of paper and called them, “My book.”

2. What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?

I use a version of the personal profile system developed by William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman and the lie detector. It divides people into four broad categories, determined by how they interact with others and how they see the world. That helps me keep each character distinct.

3. How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?

A bit of both. I might start a book by the seat of my pants, and then stop to work on an outline. Or I might outline a book, and then let my intuition guide me.

4. In the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in a murder mystery and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?

I think all fiction is about character. Ask anyone to relate the sequence of events in Gone with the Wind, and you’ll probably risk a confused jumble. But ask a person to tell you about Rhett or Scarlett, and they can do so in great detail. Character always drives plot. Two people in the same situation won’t respond the same way. That’s how character is revealed.

5. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?

In the beginning, it was hard to find a big enough block of time to write fiction. Once my son got his driver’s license, I was on my way. Of course, when you start, you don’t know what you’re doing. Very few of us admit that, but it’s true. It takes a while to have a pretty good sense of how to build a book.

As for motivation, I love what I do. I can’t wait to get started writing every day! If I miss a day, I feel lost.

6. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?

I’m up at six. I work for a couple of hours answering emails, doing social media posts, and so on. I go to Jazzercise. After I eat lunch, I sit down and start writing again, usually until six or so. If I can, after dinner I squeeze in a few hours.

I would guess I put in 60 hours a week on my writing.

7. What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

Get a journalism degree. It will provide you with the basics of good writing. You’ll learn to appreciate an editor, and you will never worry about writer’s block because a pro writes whether he/she feels like it or not!

8. Now here’s a zinger. Tell us something about yourself that you have not revealed in another interview yet. Something as simple as your favorite TV show or food will do.

My husband teases me because I love Anderson Cooper. I’m a junkie. In fact, I relax by watching CNN at night.

9. What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

I’ve turned in Death of a Dowager, the second book in The Jane Eyre Chronicles. I’ve finished Book #4 in the Southern Beauty Shop series. It’ll be called Wave Goodbye and it’s written under the pseudonym “Lila Dare.” I’m halfway through Book #6 in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series, and I try to produce a short story every month that features Kiki and Company. I have a lot of other ideas for books that I hope to tackle when I finish Kiki #6.

10. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?

I love connecting with my readers on Facebook. I’m available to Skype with book clubs, and I’ll happily provide them with questions and bookmarks. Please visit my website.

Thanks, Joanna! Now, who has a comment or question for her? 


Glenda A Bixler Reviews said...

Soooo, it is soooo cool that you've taken on the challenge of a series following one of the greats! My best wishes in your endeavors...I saw a part of one of the movies still showing for books written during that time and stopped to watch the finish. I must say that I thought of it after reading your comment on Gone to the Wind (plot versus characters). Don't you think that those books that have been turned into movies are no longer "normal" because readers now associate the parts with the stars who played the main characters? I'm reading a Tess Gerritson book right now and I've been reading her for years... It is only recently I learned what TV show follows her books...and I now picture the stars...but, for me, it is the story line that is the most holding of power. If you don't draw me in on your content no matter that I loved the original books and may believe your characters are realistic...if your story doesn't seem realistic, it may not grab me...Then what? I personally think both are equally important...of course, that my personal reader's opinion...LOL Enjoyed meeting you and I may just be your newest friend on Facebook!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Hi, I think it all has to work together. The characters compel the action to happen, but if it's not logical, the reader can't stay immersed in the book. I agree that books turned into movies are no longer "normal," and of course, Jane Eyre has been filmed many, many times. So I guess many of us have our favorite Janes/Edwards/Helen Burns.

One challenge for me--out of many--was that there wasn't any way I could compete with the power of the original story line. In that, Jane was without resources. Now she's a different person, so the stakes have changed. Hope you'll join me on Facebook. We're planning a chat room get together on my website 7 p.m. EST on August 7. I have cool prizes to give away!

Anonymous said...

Just a query about the business end of writing: how do you forsee combining the bookstore sales with e-sales? I.E., different release dates? focus for advertising? venues for e-format?


Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Rex, I can't control the e-release of this book. That's up to my publisher, Berkley. Frankly, I don't even worry about that as long as the e-version doesn't come out a long time after the print version. I believe they're being offered concurrently for this. You see, I find that most of my readers are women of a certain age. We travel a lot. We like big type. So e-sales are a huge part of my business. Fortunately for me, my readers are devoted and often buy traditional books for me to sign when they meet me in person.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

And so far, I haven't seen that advertising helps my work a lot. Reader reviews do. A robust Facebook presence does. I'm hoping Pinterest will. I also have a great Constant Contact list and I just revamped my website.

Maris said...

Can't wait to read it, Joanna.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for guesting, Joanna! Folks, she'll still be checking for comments today, so if you have a burning question, feel free to ask it.

Marja said...

Fascinating interview, and I'm glad I stopped in. This sounds like a series I'd really enjoy.

Marja McGraw

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Maris, that means a lot to me.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Marja, fans of historical fiction, of cozies, of romance would like this series--I hope!